By the time you’re reading this story, we’ll be inside of one week until the start of MLS training camps. After about two and a half months, Orlando City will be returning to the pitch at the IMG Academy in Bradenton to start gearing up for the 2019 campaign.
From the moment the 2018 season ended with a 1-0 loss at Red Bull Arena, a lot has changed on-and-off the pitch.
Orlando City fired Niki Budalic and hired Luiz Muzzi. They let go of grizzled veterans Jonathan Spector and Scott Sutter, and starting goalkeeper Joe Bendik. Mohammed El-Munir (Los Angeles FC) and Amro Tarek (New York Red Bulls) were traded away from the club. And Yoshimar Yotún was sold to Liga MX side Cruz Azul.
With all of that, let’s take a dive into Orlando City’s roster as it stands, and what work is still left undone following last week’s MLS SuperDraft.
[EDITORS NOTE]: Players italicized are new to the 2019 roster
Goalkeeper: Greg Ranjitsingh, Adam Grinwis, Mason Stajduhar
Muzzi has gone on record to say that Orlando is pretty content with the goalkeeping position after adding former Louisville City goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh, and that the club is done looking to add to the depth chart in front of net.
“We have three guys who are really good goalkeepers,” Muzzi, Orlando’s EVP of Soccer Operations, said back during a media session at the MLS Combine. “Mason is back and fully healthy. I met Adam training. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t be looking at a goalkeeper eventually but that’s not our top priority right now. We may end up getting somebody else. Right now we have three quality goalkeepers and if any one of the three has to play, I’m very comfortable with any one of the three.”
Essentially what the means is Orlando will be heading into camp with a goalkeeper battle to watch between Ranjitsingh and Grinwis, with the slight edge, to me, going to Ranjitsingh, a goalkeeper that James O’Connor worked closely with several years at Louisville. But that doesn’t mean Grinwis can’t win the job with his play in preseason.
Where does Stajduhar fit into this picture? Well, he has yet to play a professional game in his career despite having signed a Homegrown deal with Orlando City back in late 2015. So more than likely, if he plays, it’ll be largely with Orlando City B in USL League One this season.
Defenders: Carlos Ascues, Shane O’Neill, RJ Allen, Lamine Sane, Kyle Smith, Joao Moutinho, Alex De John, Danilo Acosta, Kamal Miller, Scott DeVoss
The biggest bulk of offseason change has come on the back line, which is unsurprising after the Lions conceded more goals than any other team in MLS history last season. This part of the field might just be the most interesting to watch play out over preseason and the early part of the regular season.
Acosta and Moutinho are both young and extremely talented, but whether either one of them, especially Acosta, will be able to take big step forward and lock down the left back spot as their’s will go a long way towards O’Connor finding a fix to the back line issues.
De John, the newest addition to the group, could find a way into the starting lineup right away next to Sane and Ascues, if O’Connor does indeed go to a three-back formation like has been suggested.
Now, Orlando City did draft Syracuse central defender Kamal Miller in the second round of the SuperDraft last week. The four-year starter could potentially help Orlando this season if they decide to sign him to an MLS contract, but it’s a little more likely he goes to OCB first and starts his pro development in USL.
The right back spot is still probably the Lions’ most vulnerable area on the back line. Smith, another former Louisville player, is the only addition so far, and he’ll be going up against Allen for the starting job there — although, O’Neill could also slide over if need be. Opinions can always be changed over time, but as of right now, I don’t think they can down looking for upgrades at right back, especially if you’re looking to justify letting go of a player like Sutter, despite his injury concerns.
Midfielders: Josue Colman, Pierre Da Silva, Sacha Kljestan, Will Johnson, Dillon Powers, Cristian Higuita, Oriol Rosell, Cam Lindley, Jhegson Sebastián Méndez, Tommy Madden
While the defense is the most important area to watch, the midfield might be the most intriguing. After the departure of Yotún to Mexico, how the Lions replace his two-way ability in the midfield will be key to finding success in 2019.
Currently, the only addition to the midfield is Jhegson Sebastián Méndez, an Ecuadorian central midfielder that fills out a similar skill set as Yotun, being able to add to both the attack and help out defensively. Expect him to get his shot right away, but don’t be concerned if you see he’s not a finished product right out of the gate. It might take him some time to adjust to the level and style in Orlando.
Tommy Madden, who was selected in the second round (38th overall) during last week’s SuperDraft, will have a chance to prove his worth during preseason and potentially earn an MLS contract with Orlando.
Outside of that, the rumors have been scarce. Orlando was reportedly chasing Flamengo’s Diego Ribas to fill a significant midfield role, but those talks appear to have broken off as things continue to drag on, forcing Orlando to walk away.
It looks like Orlando is banking on Sacha Kljestan to return to the same form he showed during his New York Red Bulls days after a disappointing 2018 campaign, and that Josue Colman takes the big step that he didn’t last season and becomes a much larger part of Orlando City’s attack moving forward. If those things happen, with Higuita more tamed, but still effective in deep midfield, and Méndez proving to be a valuable player, the Lions could just be well off in this area of the field in 2019.
Forwards: Dom Dwyer, Chris Mueller, Stefano Pinho, Tesho Akindele, Santiago Patiño, Benji Michel
And finally, we record the forward position, where Orlando has done plenty of work to make sure they’ll better suited to deal with the challenges that a long, congested schedule brings along, adding Akindele (trade), Michel (Homegrown Player) and Patiño (SuperDraft) to the depth chart behind Dwyer, who even at 13 goals saw last season as a bit disappointing.
Patiño could see some MLS minutes right off the bat, but it’s also likely he and Michel begin their pro careers with OCB, at least for a bit.
How the Lions will play, again, remains to be seen, but if it involves two forwards up top, that could mean any combination of Dwyer/Mueller, or Dwyer/Akindele, or whoever else earns those minutes. Otherwise, the Lions could run with one forward — Dwyer obviously comes out as the starter.
Unlike in recent seasons, the Lions actually seem prepared coming into camp at the forward position.
Here’s complete breakdown of the list of players that have joined Orlando ahead of next week’s preseason camp in Bradenton
- Greg Ranjitsingh (Goalkeeper)
- Kyle Smith (Defender)
- Joao Moutinho (Defender)
- Alex De John (Defender)
- Danilo Acosta (Defender)
- Kamal Miller (Defender)
- Scott DeVoss (Defender)
- Jhegson Sebastián Méndez (Midfielder)
- Tommy Madden (Midfielder)
- Tesho Akindele (Forward)
- Santiago Patiño (Forward)
- Benji Michel (Forward)
(Photo by Mike Watters / Orlando Soccer Journal)
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